Can't escape string when moving fast on descending 2nps licks - Pick moves parallel to guitar body

When moving down across strings on descending 2nps Eric Johnson-style licks, I can’t seem to cleanly escape the strings, and so I end up tripping over the strings and not playing cleanly, and get caught in a speed-rut. See a couple of videos I took of myself recently, playing as fast as I can currently go:

Here’s the same footage as the previous link, but shot in 120fps, and slowed down by half:

For this next one, I don’t have slow-mo, but slowing the youtube playback speed allows you to see what’s going on fairly well:

As you can see, I’m not able to consistently clear the lower string on the upstroke, because my angle of escape is not large enough. This seems to get worse as I move downward onto lower strings. This doesn’t seem to be an issue for me, however, when moving up to higher strings when doing ascending 2nps licks, mostly only when moving down.

For some reason, I’m facing a major blocker trying to just will myself to pull the pick up more and escape the string on the upstroke… Maybe I’m not using the right set of muscles or something, IDK, but my default whenever I start getting faster in speed is to have the downstroke be pulled across the string, closer to being parallel to the guitar body, not being pulled more perpendicularly away from it. Troy demonstrates something more like the perpendicular motion here:

Troy is clearly pulling away from the guitar body on his downstrokes, but I can’t seem to get that to happen for me. Does anyone have any advice as to how to overcome this problem?

Possibly part of the issue is that I’m anchoring my elbow to the guitar body? When I move towards the lower strings, I feel less able to maintain the same pick attack,. Should I be moving my elbow out as I’m moving down the strings to try to maintain the same angle?

Another factor is that when I do force myself to try to pull the pick away perpendicular from the guitar more on the upstroke, the pick feels like it’s getting caught up on the string, resulting in a tripped-up and definitely not fluid-motion feeling. Do I need to hold the pick differently, at an angle, or edge-pick more?


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I don’ t think you are maintaining the single upward escaped pick motion across the strings.

I would start on a single string , such as the B or G string and focus on ensuring you have the upstrokes escaping and the downstrokes get buried in the plane of the strings. When you get that down, work on the ‘EJ atom’ on the cascade seminar - then you can move onto moving it across the strings.

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Hi! Thanks for posting.

I like @PickingApprentice’s advice of making sure this is working at the level of the motion. Keep in mind also, you’re using wrist motion, with a dash of elbow motions as you speed up. The clip you’re looking at of me playing is me using a hybrid wrist-forearm motion. These are different motions and they will look different when you examine them up close. Here’s a quick comparison:

You’ll see more of the obvious “pulling away” in the hybrid wrist-forearm motion because the forearm is a joint that rotates from Magnet perspective, and creates a curved motion path.

In your case I think we have several issues. One, the motion you’re trying to do isn’t learned yet, so you can’t turn it on by feel and know with confidence which escape path you’re making. Two, hand synchronization is missing here, which makes it harder to really know when you get it right, since the result will sound a little bit ‘off’ no matter what. And three, not all the lines you’re playing are single escape lines, which is going to make it harder to know by feel which parts of what you’re doing are really working and which aren’t.

Incidentally, the bit where you go back and forth between two strings for that blues cliché is a double-escape motion, and you are doing it correctly. It might be worth doing more of that, etude-style. One of the most important things you can do when you’re trying to learn new motions is immediately pick up on things that are working, separating those things from the things that aren’t working, and specifically doing more of them. You have to give yourself some victories. It can’t be all confusion all the time, your hands will never figure it out. The more things you get right, and make habitual, the closer you are to getting all the things, like a crossword puzzle.

As far as the USX stuff, simplest thing to do is to dial that back to a single fretted note on a single string so left hand sync is not a concern, and see if you can get the motion consistent. Are you making the escape path you’re trying to make, and does it stay that way as you speed up? We recently uploaded a Pickslanting Primer chapter to our YT channel which addresses this, specifically with wrist motion, which is more similar to what you’re doing here. You may have seen this already, but linking to it again for completeness:

If you’re having trouble establishing and maintaining the correct escape, try the rest stroke technique from this lesson.

Once you get the single-note motion working, try doing repeating 4-, 6-, or 8-note phrases on that single string, with initial accents for hand synchronization. Once that is starting to come together, start trying to take it across the strings. Once that is starting to work, go back to the 2nps type phrases and see if they work any better. In other words, it’s much easier to feel and synchronize multi-note-per-string phrases because they repeat more slowly, so start with them before hitting the pentatonic stuff.

Nice shots. How are you mounting the phone? If you can get the camera a little lower you’ll get a better view of the pick attack. Also, just remember to lock focus on your hand otherwise your camera will grab whatever is behind you the second you’re out of frame, and then you’ll be out of focus.

Again, thanks for posting.

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Thanks so much for all the great advice, everyone!

Which part are you referring to, with the “two string blues cliche”? If you gave me a timestamp for one of the videos, I can know for certain which you mean. Also, just to be sure I understand, what do you mean by “etude-style”?

Heh, that’s a specialized camera mount I’m testing out. It’s called “Katie, can you hold my phone and videotape my picking?”
We’ll try to get it lower next time. It’s possible the camera positioning on the phone (Nexus 6p) isn’t great for this application. There were some parts (that you can hear in the video) where the strings buzz against the phone case, cause it got too close to the strings.

Also, are you sure I’m doing wrist motion? I would have thought I was doing forearm rotation with some elbow mixed in, but it’s so hard for me to tell because I always anchor my fingers to the guitar body, so my hand never looks quite like yours when I see it up close. When I think about the motion I associate with picking, I always think it’s forearm rotation, but who knows, I could be doing something totally different when the picking gets faster and can’t really tell.

Hi! No, this isn’t forearm rotation, not to any significant degree anyway. It’s wrist or elbow, or some combination of both, with more elbow showing up when you speed up.

When you see different motions popping in and interfering unpredictably that’s common at this stage. The best way we know of to start to gain control and converge on one of these motions deliberately is the process I outlined above. The goal is to learn to recognize by feel when you’re doing the motion you’re trying to learn, and then to verify with video that you’re right. By the time you can start to identify by feel, things are usually starting to feel and sound smoother and more consistent anyway, so it should start to be obvious even without filming yourself, that you’re getting there.

In re-watching these, I wouldn’t worry about the blues stuff for now. I think that’s just going to add confusion. Give the USX video and associated checklist a shot and see if you can get that happening. You’ll need to make some small form changes but the motion itself isn’t that different from what you’re doing here, and I would think you’re pretty close to getting a nice confident, consistent single-escape motion happening.

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